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Weird Science: Play Pac-Man Using Living Cells

In a series of biotic video games that use a single cell life form in place of the original digital characters.
January 18, 2011, 5:50pm

Paramecium are a unicellular life form that now star in their own video game thanks to Stanford University physicist Ingmar Riedel-Kruse and his team. The researchers have developed a series of biotech games that are taking gaming to its next logical progression—adding the god-like action of controlling life itself into the digital world of gaming. In various scenarios that bear some resemblance to classic video games—like PAC-Mecium, a game where you have to gobble tablets with smiley faces—the role of software is replaced by biological processes where users control a micro-organism in real-time. Using a controller you can dictate the direction, while an electric field guides the Paramecium’s movement and a microscope camera enlarges the creatures, darting about in a fluid chamber, so you can see them on your monitor.

The idea is to move the act of engaging with biological organisms, and by extension, experimental science, out of the laboratories and into our downtime to promote crowd-sourced acts of scientific research. The games look rudimentary at the moment, but no more so than early video games, so where this research will end up is anyone’s guess. Sonic the Hedgehog with a real hedgehog maybe?